Let's Take the Long Way Home
A Memoir of Friendship
By Gail Caldwell
Random House 2010
From the library
Gail Caldwell is a writer who is often a bit of a loner. She thrives on moments of quiet and rambles through the woods with her beloved dog. By chance, she happens to meet another writer - Caroline Knapp. The two connect on many levels: they both love their dogs, they both understand the joys and demands of the life of a writer, and they both share a past struggle with alcohol. Almost imperceptibly, the two become a necessary part of each other's lives. But life with someone you love is only half of the story. Caroline is diagnosed with cancer and Gail must learn about the rest of the tale - how to live when someone you love is gone.
Memoirs can be a tricky thing to write and to read. When we look back on our lives, it's easy to make excuses for the moments when we failed or to become overly sentimental. Caldwell manages to avoid both of these problems. Her memories of her best friend are truthful and sincere but not cloying. She writes about the ways they grew closer and the ways in which it seemed that they had always depended on each other to teach, to help, and to make the other grow in new ways.
“Counting on each other became automatic. When I found a sweater in Texas I wanted, I learned to buy two, which was easier than seeing the look of disappointment on Caroline's face when I returned home with only one. When she went out from the boathouse on a windy day, she gave me her schedule in advance, which assuaged her worst-case scenario of flipping the boat, being hit on the head by an oar, and leaving Lucille stranded at home. I still have my set of keys to her house, to locks and doors that no longer exist, and I keep them in my glove compartment, where they have been moved from one car to another in the past couple of years. Someday I will throw them in the Charles, where I lost the seat to her boat and so much else.”
It's wonderful to read a book about a friendship. So often we read about romance and the bonds of family, but there are few stories about the importance of a best friend. As we grow older, a true friend becomes a rare commodity and therefore, something to be treasured. Of course, Caldwell realizes that most friendships become strained by time and distance. Her situation is somewhat unusual in that she meets and loses her best friend within a few short years. She writes some truly breath-catching words about the depths and lengths of grief, such as this line: “Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air.”
Let's Take the Long Way Home is a small, quiet book about one relationship among a whole lifetime of them. But as we all learn sooner or later, some relationships matter most in our lives and can live forever even if we lose someone who we love. This is a beautiful story about what it means to make a friend as an adult and the importance of that relationship. It's also a poignant look at losing someone you can't imagine living without. As one writer who loved another, perhaps this slim book is the greatest tribute that Gail could ever give her friend.